Is there a connection between egoism and nihilism? Does Ayn Rand’s brand of ethical egoism amount to a form of nihilism? These are the questions addressed in this blog post.
Let us turn to dictionary.com for a definition of nihilism:
1. total rejection of established laws and institutions.
2. anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity.
3. total and absolute destructiveness, especially toward the world at large and including oneself: the power-mad nihilism that marked Hitler’s last years.
a. an extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth.
b. nothingness or nonexistence.
5. (sometimes initial capital letter) the principles of a Russian revolutionary group, active in the latter half of the 19th century, holding that existing social and political institutions must be destroyed in order to clear the way for a new state of society and employing extreme measures, including terrorism and assassination.
The term nihilism will be used to refer to definitions “a” and “b” under philosophy. It will most definitely not be used to describe anarchism or anarchy.
Dictionary.com also provides us with a definition of egoism:
1. the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one’s personal interest; selfishness (opposed to altruism ).
2. egotism or conceit.
3. Ethics. the view that morality ultimately rests on self-interest.
Only if having objective values is equated with selflessness does it make sense to see nihilism and egoism as the same thing. An egoist can believe in rationally validated principles or values that are more than just subjective preferences. Self-interest is not equivalent to believing in nothing. Ayn Rand’s brand of egoism included the belief in an objective reality and morality.
I have known several egoists who evidenced no signs of nihilism. They could be as thoughtful and caring as anyone else. The notion that the two are the same thing is not borne out by empirical observation of actual egoists.
What implications does this have for left-libertarian thought? Should we left-libertarians embrace egoism? That isn’t a question I have an answer to. It certainly deserves further reflection and debate. I personally remain undecided on the question. It’s up to others to jumpstart a debate on it.
If the above question is answered in the affirmative; the next one is what brand of egoism to adopt. The egoism of Rand or Stirner? I leave that as an additional question for my readers to ponder.